People's physical and mental wellness improved by having a dog

Having a dog provides physical and mental health benefits. Consider adopting a companion or volunteering at a local animal shelter.
By Best Friends staff

Many people are aware that the companionship of a dog is good for your mental health, but did you know that having a canine can improve your physical fitness as well?

Human-dog interaction contributes to people's overall health

Dog people are more likely than others to be physically active. Moderate exercise, such as walking a dog, has incredible health benefits for both pets and humans alike. Various studies have confirmed that going for a stroll for just 30 minutes a day on most days of the week can make people healthier, lowering their blood pressure and helping them maintain a healthy weight. Walkers also reduce their risk of debilitating diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, asthma and depression. A recent post in the Health section of the New York Times also touts the physical benefits of getting out there with a dog!

Dr. Franklin D. McMillan, DVM and director of Well-Being Studies at Best Friends Animal Society, elaborates on the total health benefits of interacting with dogs: "People under moderate stress [experience] a reduction of blood pressure when in the presence of friendly dogs. Mental and emotional health benefits have also been reported, including relief from clinical depression, decreased anxiety level, enhanced relaxation, moderation of stress . . . and improved emotional well-being."

Further explaining the physical health benefits of sharing your life with a canine, Mike Harmon, Community Training Partners program manager for Best Friends, says, "We meet people who have been told by their veterinarian that their dog is overweight. The happy endings to the stories are often that both the humans and the dog have enjoyed changing their habits to become healthier together. It can be a family walk, hike or a combination of skating, jogging and riding your bicycle with your dog."

Adopt a shelter dog and live happily, healthily ever after

Take the first step to better health by adopting a dog from a shelter or animal organization. Not only will you be giving a homeless pet a forever home, you'll be embracing the idea that "pets are family," which will increase the likelihood you and your canine companion will both live happier, healthier and longer lives.

Alan M. Beck and N. Marshall Meyers of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University, conclude in their article "Health enhancement and companion animal ownership," "All indications are that companion animals play the role of a family member, often a member with the most desired attributes."

Volunteer with dogs at a rescue

People whose lifestyles prohibit them from having a pet in their home as well as others who have some extra time to donate might consider volunteering with dogs at a local shelter. Rescue groups welcome help from volunteers, which can include everything from cleaning up after animals to walking dogs, all of which are ways to get moving and establish a routine of daily activity.

Kristiina Stromness, volunteer director for No More Homeless Pets in Utah, clarifies that volunteers "aren't just responsible for walking the dogs but also for cleaning the kennels and feeding the dog. Some of our volunteers even take the dogs to weekly training sessions. Volunteers help the dogs to be more adoptable by giving them exercise, attention and re-enforcing their training."

Additional information on healthy living with a dog

For more information about how sharing your life with a dog can lead to improved fitness, see the video Four-Legged Exercise Machine on the website of Every Body Walk! - a public awareness campaign powered by Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest nonprofit healthcare organization.

Get info about the Strut Your Mutt fundraising dog walk

Images by Best Friends staff